Polish officials resign over eavesdropping scandal

Andrzej Seremet
Poland's Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet addresses lawmakers in the parliament about the circumstances concerning the illegal publication of secret files from a prosecutors' probe, in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Four Polish government ministers and the parliamentary speaker resigned on Wednesday amid a revived 2014 scandal over secret recordings made of them and other officials.

In an unexpected political shake-up, the ministers of health, sports, the treasury and security, and parliamentary speaker Radek Sikorski, said they were stepping down for the good of the ruling Civil Platform party just four months before a general election. Four junior government officials also resigned in a major crisis for the pro-business party, which has been in power for almost eight years.

The party is under pressure after a surprise defeat last month in the presidential election of the incumbent — a former party member — which exposed growing dissatisfaction with Civic Platform policies.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz accepted Wednesday’s resignations, her spokeswoman Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska told The Associated Press. Kopacz will probably name replacements for the four ministers on Monday.

“As long as I am the prime minister, I will not allow for political games over the tapes during the electoral period,” Kopacz said in announcing the resignations. “Today, on behalf of Civic Platform, I extend my heartfelt apologies” to party supporters who for the past year “listened to the tapes with disgust, irritation.”

The resignations were prompted by the illegal publication this week on Facebook of files from the still ongoing probe into the eavesdropping that raised questions about security procedures during sensitive investigations and about data protection. The publication released personal data and addresses of officials who were questioned in the probe to the public.

Sikorski, who was then the foreign minister, the four government ministers and others were secretly taped during private meetings in Warsaw restaurants in 2013 and 2014. The tapes were leaked to a weekly magazine and published, and Poles were angered that politicians, lobbyists and business people were debating political stratagems and deals while dining over baby lobster, paid for with taxpayers’ money.

The interior minister at the time, Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, lost his job over the scandal and then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk suggested foreign intelligence services were involved, but there were no major repercussions at the time.

Sikorski on Wednesday said he was resigning in the interest of the party, and argued that it was the only political force in Poland capable of preserving the nation’s international standing. With a fast-growing economy, Poland is a major player in eastern Europe and a significant voice in the European Union. The scandal could potentially affect that position.

Many political analysts say that the entire case could undermine the ruling party’s chances in the fall elections. Some say that the resignations came too late and were too few for electoral success.

An investigation into the illegal recordings is still underway and a visibly angry Kopacz said that this week’s leak of the classified files was its only known result so far.

Kopacz has indicated she wants Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet, who is overseeing the investigation, to be fired. She said the probe is slow-going and that she doesn’t accept his report on why the classified files from the investigation were leaked. Seremet can only be removed by the president.

One man has been charged over the latest leak.

The four ministers who resigned are Health Minister Bartosz Arlukowicz, Sports Minister Andrzej Biernat, Treasury Minister Wlodzimierz Karpinski, and Jacek Cichocki, minister in charge of security.

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